Millions of people at risk of losing free prescriptions in government shake-up

Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 4:46 pm

Over 2.4 million people are at risk of losing access to free prescriptions in a government plan to raise the benefit in line with the state pension age.

Currently anyone 60 and above qualifies for free prescriptions - which cost £9.35 per medicine. 

The shake-up could be a “kick in the teeth” for older people and could lead to people skipping vital medication to avoid the costs of treatment, a charity said. 

At a glance: 5 key points

  • More than 2.4 million people will lose access to free prescriptions in the UK if the government chooses to raise the benefit in line with the state pension age. 

  • Currently anyone 60 and above qualifies for free prescriptions - which cost £9.35 per medicine. 

  • After a consultation launched by the government, the Department of Health wants to bring the free prescription age in line with the state pension age - which is currently 66.

  • The government estimates the move could bring £300 million in for the NHS by 2026/27.

  • The shake-up could be a “kick in the teeth” for older people and could lead to people skipping vital medication to avoid the costs of treatment, a charity said. 

What’s been said?

Charity Age UK said those of low incomes just above the benefits line are likely to be worse hit, with thousands forced to ration their medication because of the extra costs.

The charity added scrapping free prescriptions for this age group is ‘likely to exacerbate existing health inequalities’ and have a ‘devastating impact’ on older people’s health and put further pressure on the NHS.

Jan Shortt, National Pensioners Convention general secretary, said: "This will have a massive negative effect on the health of pensioners who lose their free prescriptions.

"Prescription charges are not affordable if you are on low income without financial help of some kind.”

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said: “This proposed policy is a kick in the teeth, both for poorly older people and the NHS.

"It is also extremely ill judged because the money the Government will save will almost certainly be outweighed by the additional costs to the NHS, if people fail to take their medication because they can’t afford it and become ill.”

A health department spokesman said the age people received free prescriptions in England had not changed since 1974 for women, and 1995 for men.

He added: “We continue to protect the most vulnerable and support is available for those on a low income and on certain benefits.”